Being Mental – Are you ready?

mental training

Matt will line up for this year's GNW yet again - will he go better than his third place from last year?
Following on from the success of our “Four F’s article” the other week, we’ve got one final piece of advice from last year’s third place athlete, Matt Cooper. Matt is a big advocate of making sure that the mental side of your preparation is just as important as the physical, and as an NLP practitioner and Performance Coach, he knows a thing or two about this kind of stuff. In this guest article, Matt provides a few thoughts as to how to get yourself mentally prepared for the big dance…

‘Preparation’ is vital for these events. Physical health, nutrition, water, feet, support, weather, mental health and focus are all essential, but the fine line in these races (GNW specific), leading to dictate a DNF after your name or not, is what you do when your ‘preparation’ doesn’t go to plan. After all, even the best ultra race plans won’t go exactly to plan, that’s why we love them.

It is in these moments when you are at the 75km mark or the 130km mark and feelings start to override your thoughts, your focus, your determination, and your ability to keep going.

Something you might want to ask yourself here is the following: Is it your feelings of pain that are overriding your thoughts or is it your thoughts that are overriding and creating the pain? After all, does pain exist without thought?

As Ultra168 has already alluded to, in the last week of race preparation the doors are all but shut physically, but mentally they have never been open wider.  In fact, it is this week that you stand at the fork in the trail. What you tell yourself this week about your race ‘preparation’ will have a great influence on your results.

When the feelings of pain, tiredness, exhaustion come into play throughout the run, it doesn’t matter how much prep you have done, if your thoughts fall below the line and go back to those such as… did I train enough, did I do enough hills, have I eaten right, did I drink enough, it wasn’t this hot when I trained, old injuries… it is only your answers here that will determine your consequence actions and therefore determine your result.

I encourage all the runners of this years’ GNW to engage in a few simple practices which will ensure their mindset is also in an optimum state, matching their already superior trained bodies.

I know many runners would have already done this, but it is also this week that is a great time to become very clear on the visualisation of crossing that line or kissing that pole. Take time this week to close your eyes, relax, breath and focus on creating that amazing picture – the end goal.

Picture the finish… if you haven’t seen it before yet, check out the race photos of previous years or ‘Google’ it. Picture seeing yourself there… Think of the smiles, the applause, the emotion of knowing that you have completed such an amazing feat, the support crew, Dave and the organisers and volunteers

Hear the sounds that you will hear, the cheering of your own support, the stillness of the moment, the internal praise of what you are saying to yourself “you did it”. Feel all the feelings that come along when you say that to yourself, the tingles, the overwhelming sense of achievement and pure dedication and know that you have now grown to a place that you never would have been before had you not put this vision in place and trusted in your own amazing ability.

Another simple practice for runners whilst out on the trail in those times when you catch your thoughts of not doing enough preparation, is to simply become aware of where you are right now. Grab a leaf from a tree (there’s plenty out there) or rub your hands in the dirt – bring your focus and energy back to the only place energy can ever exist – The Present. Smile, laugh or even cry and accept that it is purely only through thought that you can be defeated today, as without thought there is no energy loss or pain and you have all the re-sources you could ever need to complete a 100 miler/100ker.

If you’re interested in what Matt has to say and would like to hear more, Matt is offering exclusively to FIVE members of Ultra168 in the lead up week to GNW100 2011, a free Empowered Vision session where runners can undergo this powerful intervention.

Email Matt here –

Sessions will go for no longer then 20-30 min and is purely individualised to the runners own race goals and run by the runners with simple guidance by Matt.

(Matt has International certification as an NLP practitioner, behavior profiler and Performance Coach, an internationally used performance tool for elite athletes.)



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I'm a mediocre runner who can bat above his average when I train hard. A man of extremes, I do enjoy everything life offers and consider it an absolute pleasure just to be able to put one foot in front of the other and let my mind wander somewhere different.

10 thoughts on “Being Mental – Are you ready?

  1. Matt’s ahead of the curve on this one – check out the chapter on Pain in The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidges M.D. Research with amputees in treating phantom pain points to pain as a mental projection rather than an objective physical experience. Good luck remembering that next week, everybody. : )

  2. Very interesting. I was shocked at how bad my mental state was during my first 100 miles. It was almost a feeling of depression. Hopefully I’ll be able to anticipate and fight that feeling.

    But, and I would love to ask Matt this question – as runners we try to listen to our bodies as much as possible. Are we hungry, dehydrated, injured? So we spend a lot of time dwelling on our physical state. How do we remain in tune with our body and yet still tune out all the negative thoughts that say ‘you are sore and tired, that rock looks comfortable’?

    1. Gary, maybe email Matt direct (email address in his article), also maybe consider his offer of a free session too and be one of the first five.

      Just to add my two pennies worth – I struggled with this a lot in the early stages of my running. The mental side of things was just something I’d never even considered at all, hence a few DNFs early on. Northburn really got me into shape when I spent the best part of two weeks in the lead-up doing lots of visualisation – something I used to do when I played rugby in my twenties.

      I think a lot of it also (and this is something Matt picks up too), is around being in the present and trying to not think about the future i.e. 30kms down the road too much. There was an article I read in a UK newspaper about the All Blacks and their recent World Cup win and how they dealt with the pressure that was exerted on them by the French during the game. The simple question was “How did they deal with it?” The answer was that each of them had something that they would use as a trigger to bring them back to the present and be ‘in the moment’. Be that squirting water in their face, or giving themselves a slap on the leg. This would stop them from simply ‘drifting’ in the game, and get them thinking about the task at hand and what they needed to do to overcome the present situation.

      I think there’s a lot of similarities in ultra running too. Given the amount of time we spend running in a race, it’s often the case that we’ll simply drift in our thoughts for a few hours and become ‘lost’ mentality. Often, it’s something like seeing a snake that actually brings our thoughts right back to the present and your senses become alert again. This is also what I think makes a different between some of the top guys and the next tier or two behind. Concentration and being able to stay ‘switched on’ may mean that those guys stay on track better then those that drift mentality for a few hours.

      Anyway, just some thoughts from a middle packer, but hope it adds to the debate.

  3. Great article. One of the most attractive elements of running (to me anyway) is the mental challenges involved. This is not strictly related to ultramarathons either. There are massive head games at play during races in which we are nudging our aerobic thresholds. Some embrace this feeling and toy with it, almost like a game whereas those that dread the feeling are often the first that drop the pace and drop off. But in the longer races, there is no denying the hot flush of adrenaline that is produced when one visualises crossing the finish line when they are feeling down.
    During low patches in a race and also in training, I will picture the best possible scenario (winning, pr etc.) and that kicks me into gear every time.

  4. The ability to slot into the right mental state at any point in time in an ultra is THE most powerful ultra skill to master. No point having a Rolls Royce engine if it is too scared to be subject to competition and scrutiny and the occasional speed bump. While I know many on this site prefer trail running I encourage all to try a 12h or 24h track race to really deal with the mental stuff in an environment where there is the ultimate transparency and no hiding. It will boost your trail running toughness many fold and you will never complain about any gnarly terrain in a trail trace ever again.

  5. Very much like the AA mantra of “One day at a time’. That is large tasks are best broken down into smaller managable chunks and then be able to deal with that and them move onto the next one. I guess it is ‘One step at a time’ and focus on that and so be in the moment.

  6. Just had to come back to this forum to say Thank You! Thanks Ultra168 for offering the pre-race session with Matt and thanks heaps to Matt for 40 minutes well-invested.

    I have had a little experience with Neuro Linguistic Programming as I know other practitioners and also have some involvement of my own in complementary healing practices. In one sense, it’s an advantage to not be caught up in the novelty of different techniques but engage with them for what they are. And, on the other, WOW – not what I expected, thanks so much Matt. You’re a dude.

    Sitting by the harbour at night talking through some race day scenarios with Matt and what subconscious shaping is needed to be properly engaged and ready in my first miler was not anything I had expected to be doing this week but I’m really glad I did. At least in terms of my own focus and self-direction this week, I’m really glad we spoke and will have a bit more to say about how it all figured into the bigger picture next week. . . or maybe the week after : )

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